Startups in India’s Silicon Valley have another nightmare: monsoon rains

When it rains, it pours.
When it rains, it pours.
Image: Reuters/Jagadeesh Nv
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Hundreds of entrepreneurs in Bengaluru are losing their sleep because—wait for it—the monsoons are coming.

India’s startup capital, it appears, isn’t quite monsoon-proof. With underground fibre networks and overhead cables prone to damage, startups that cannot afford dedicated leased lines face constant disruption in their internet connectivity. That, at times, can hit their businesses hard.

“Every time it rains or a tree falls due to a storm, internet connectivity in my office goes for a toss,” Shankar Prasad, founder and chief executive officer of two-year-old healthy snack vending machine startup, Snaxsmart, told Quartz.

A former top executive of Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications, Prasad explains that internet connectivity takes a hit during the monsoon because transmitters that carry internet signals are affected by power cuts, which are frequent during the rains. ”In some rare cases, rains also disrupt internet signals at the origin, where the transmission begins,” he said.

Businesses that are entirely internet-based suffer the most. ”A couple of years ago, when we used to depend on broadband, we would face issues with it during monsoons and sometimes it would take days to rectify the problem,” recalled Loveleen Bhatia, co-founder and CEO of Edureka, which runs training classes online. ”We had to then go for a leased line, and today we pay three to four times of what we used to earlier.”

Bengaluru houses around 30% of the country’s total 3,100 startups. The city witnesses showers due to the south-west monsoon during June to September, and again in November and December when the north-east monsoon hits. And this connectivity problem comes alongside a range of other challenges that entrepreneurs in India must contend with, including bureaucratic red tape and ambiguous regulations.

Large companies in the city rely on leased-line internet connections, which are expensive but typically more reliable. Smaller startups, however, depend on local fibre cable networks or nationwide internet service providers (ISP).

The starting cost for a basic leased line internet connection is around Rs8,000 per month and could run into several times that amount, depending on usage and speed requirement. Local cable ISP, on the other hand, charge between Rs800 and Rs4,000 a month, and an internet connection from a countrywide ISP could cost between Rs1,000 and Rs5000, depending on the speed and usage.

A senior executive of a national internet service provider admitted that there are problems. ”We get consumers’ complaints about internet not working round the year, but during monsoon it aggravates because at times equipment fail due to rain water, or some part of an equipment gets washed out or breaks due to water clogging in places where roads are dug up,” the executive said, requesting anonymity.

For Subhendu Panigrahi, co-founder of startup Venturesity, which organises hackathons for companies almost every weekend, ensuring smooth internet connectivity is among his biggest worries.

Before any hackathon, his company talks to the ISP to ensure reliable supply during the event, and even keeps a backup 100 GB connection, which may be used in case of emergency. Despite all that, Panigrahi said, ”We did one hackathon for one of our clients where the internet stopped working and we had to move people to another venue.”